The broadside came as temperatures began to reach boiling point over the Northern Ireland protocol and border checks on goods going into the country.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday told the Daily Mail that he was ‘not bluffing’ about his intentions to rip the protocol up, days after the Belgian prime minister, Alexander De Croo warned him: ‘Do not touch this’.
But the Brexit Opportunities Minister dismissed such concerns. ‘I think it wants to make the UK feel bad about having left the European Union and that underpins its whole policy, and it doesn’t really mind about the consequences of that,’ Rees-Mogg said.
‘And we just have to get on with life and recognise that we have left.
We have to make our own way. We are an independent country, and what the EU wants and thinks is secondary.
‘And you have to say to the European Union, does it really want to punish its consumers at a time of rising inflation?
What is the NI Protocol?
The protocol is a special Brexit deal for Northern Ireland. It was negotiated by the UK Government to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, by effectively keeping the province in the European Union’s single market for goods.
What is the issue?
Northern Ireland continues to follow some EU laws under the protocol, and there are extra checks and paperwork for some products crossing over the Irish Sea from Great Britain. But not all the trade controls required by the Brexit agreement apply yet because of ‘grace periods’.
What is the EU’s solution?
Brussels has repeatedly ruled out renegotiating the protocol and believes solutions can be found without changing the agreement. It has proposed to build on existing grace periods and cut 80 per cent of checks on some goods.
How has Britain responded?
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the EU’s proposals fell short and in some cases would ‘take us backwards’.
British sausages, for example, would need veterinary certificates to enter Northern Ireland, and products like New Zealand lamb could be unavailable. She has threatened to tear up parts of the protocol as early as next week if a negotiated solution cannot be found.
How would the EU respond?
EU leaders have threatened a trade war between London and Brussels if the UK takes unilateral action. Belgian PM Alexander De Croo said this week that if the protocol was revoked then ‘the whole system will be revoked’.
‘And inflation in a lot of the EU countries is higher than it is in the UK,’ Rees-Mogg added, alluding to the outcomes of a potential trade war that could ensue were the UK to unilaterally tear up the Northern Ireland protocol.
Earlier in the week Boris Johnson claimed that the Northern Ireland Protocol was threatening the stability of the United Kingdom and ‘not sustainable in its current form’.
Ministers have already drawn up legislation to unilaterally suspend checks on goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, should the Prime Minister give the word.
The protocol, negotiated as part of the Brexit deal, was intended to avoid checks on goods crossing the border with the Republic of Ireland, but it has led to checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic has made it clear that the protocol is not open to renegotiation and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said ‘no one should unilaterally override the arrangement which we have agreed together’.
Former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost insisted national unity was more pressing than the threat of a trade war, also doubting the EU’s stomach for a fight.
Lord Frost added: ‘We’ve got to find another way forward. I’m not convinced everybody in the EU will be really up for a trade war.’
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Maros Sefcovic in a call earlier in the week that the EU must move or the UK will act unilaterally.
And at a press conference in Sweden, Mr Johnson said the protocol needed to be sorted out when he was asked whether now was the right time to pick a fight with Brussels.
‘The most important agreement is the 25-year-old Belfast Good Friday Agreement,’ Mr Johnson said.
‘That is crucial for the stability of our country, of the UK, of Northern Ireland. And it means that things have got to command cross-community support.
‘Plainly the Northern Ireland Protocol fails to do that and we need to sort it out.’
The moves come a week after a historic assembly election in Northern Ireland, with Sinn Féin overtaking the DUP to become the biggest party.
The unionist DUP has been fiercely opposed to the protocol and has paralysed the Stormont assembly and executive in a protest to both Downing Street and Brussels.
The message is that the DUP is willing to create a destabilising power vacuum in a region which has seen peace for 25 years over its objections to the protocol.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, said the prime minister must ‘outline what he intends to do’.
‘I have both patience and resolve in equal measure to see the Irish Sea border removed, and stable as well as sustainable devolution restored,’ he added, foreshadowing prolonged tensions.